Public Consultations Based on Free Software : Proposal Ranking 4th Among the Most Supported

The online public consultation on the bill “generalizing online public consultations”[fr], and launched by representatives Luc Belot and Patrice Martin-Lalande, ended Tuesday, January 17, 2017. April had taken advantage of the opportunity presented by the consultation to reiterate that only platforms based on free software, which are inherently democratic, can achieve the asserted goal of the bill “ to rebuild the trust between citizens and their representatives”.

April took part in the online public consultation by publishing a proposal: “Platforms used for online public consultations are based on free software”[fr]
As already expressed in April's call for support [fr], while debates on the benefits and scope of such a procedure have clear societal merits, there is a matter of substance on which there can be no compromise: online public consultations must be based on free software. This reminder is all the more important considering that the platform used for this consultation, “Parlement et Citoyen”, relies on proprietary software.

The consultation is now over, and, with no official ranking available yet, April's proposition, seems to be coming in 6th in total number of votes and 4th in number of favorable votes. Disturbingly, on Thursday, January 19, 2017, a Next Inpact article [fr] reported 141 votes on the proposition,138 of which were in favor; yet, on Monday, January 23, 2017, the count was down to 137 votes, 134 of which were in favor. The difference is slight and has no real consequence, but we can't help being puzzled, since any vote reversal would have seemed impossible once the consultation had ended.

April thanks the people who supported its proposal, and especially the authors of the many positive arguments, which are the sign of a strong commitment to free software.

Some noteworthy points:

  • As it is the case with the numerous electoral procedures, the way an online consultation platform is programmed is intrinsically linked to the issues of trust, truthfulness, and, in the end, democracy. COEPIA (Conseil de l'orientation de l'édition publique et de l'information administrative — orientation council for public information) shared a similar position in its November 2016 study of online consultations (PDF) [fr] :
    “The quality of the software solutions —dedicated platforms, messaging , collaborative tools...— is a determining factor for the enterprise. [...] The software should, whenever possible, be free software, whose source code is available and can thus be audited by the public. Methodological decisions about the consultation ought to be public and open to discussion.”
    Translation by April
    The consensus in favor of the use of free software illustrates the strong awareness of this crucial issue amoungst participants.
  • Surprisingly, the propositions of the platform owners were highlighted alongside those of the two Members of Parliament who proposed the bill. This perfectly illustrates the need for a horizontal, transparent, and contributive model. Indeed, their propositions are “pinned”, that is systematically listed first, which makes them especially visible for internauts, regardless of what filter is applied[fr].
    Incidentally, no hint is given to clarify the criteria that justifies this breach of equality in the treatment of contributions... “Code is law”, as Lawrence Lessig said in 2001.
  • As pointed out by Next Inpact journalists[fr], the parliamentary and electoral agenda make it unlikely that the bill submitted for consultation will be presented to Parliament before the June 2017 legislative elections. However, the “democratic crisis” issue, and the interest of policymakers in online consultations, let us easily foresee that the issue will be up for debate again next term. The support that was expressed cannot be ignored, it will strengthen the position that free software is an essential and irreducible building block for any online public consultation at the service of democracy.

Members of Parliament Luc Belot and Patrice Martin-Lalande “are committed to responding to the 20 best-supported platform contributions with official and substantiated answers”[fr], which will be released to the public by February 18, 2017, at the latest. This will make it possible to resume and further the debate on free software usage, considering the ranking of April's proposal.